Ep. 328 – Square Baby, 1 of 3: 100% Daily Nutrition for Your Baby – Informed Pregnancy Podcast
Elliot: Welcome to the Informed Pregnancy and Parenting Podcast. I’m your host, pregnancy-focused chiropractor, Dr. Elliot Berlin. In today’s sponsored
Elliot: Welcome to the Informed Pregnancy and Parenting Podcast. I’m your host, pregnancy-focused chiropractor, Dr. Elliot Berlin.
In today’s sponsored episode, I’m excited to get to know two moms. One a nutritionist and registered dietitian, and the other, a certified genetic counselor. Who, together, decided to aim their considerable expertise and experience at the baby food industry and came up with “Square Baby,” a fully customizable baby food subscription service that puts scientific research at the center and addresses your baby’s every dietary need from palette development to allergy introduction and more. Katie Thomas and Kendall Glenn, welcome to the podcast.
Katie: Thank you so much for having us.
Kendall: Thank you. We’re excited to be here.
Elliot: I’m so excited. I just want to learn so much about early nutrition. And you guys, I mean, wow! What a resume! We’re all going to learn a lot today. You know it’s not easy to have a baby. It’s a lot of work to have a baby. But then, to have a baby food company must be also a lot of work. Let’s start at the beginning. Where are you guys from? Katie, where are you from?
Katie: I just landed in Bend, Oregon after moving around the country a bunch, but super excited to be here.
Elliot: How is Oregon?
Katie: We live what it feels like on the side of a mountain. My kids and we love it outdoors every day.
Elliot: That sounds amazing. Are there any houses on the block? I’m ready to get out of Los Angeles.
Kendall: Me first!
Katie: We’re going fast. I work with everyone in California moved out to Bend, Oregon.
Elliot: Uh-oh, save a spot. Kendall, you’re closer to me.
Kendall: Yeah. Well, I grew up in Southern California. Southern California gal that got transplanted inadvertently to San Francisco.
Elliot: Up north.
Elliot: Do you like it up there?
Kendall: I do. It’s like a different state. Still wear my Dodger Blue, go into the game next week, but do love it up here, yeah. I hope I don’t offend anyone in San Francisco, but I got to stay true to my team.
Elliot: If you don’t offend anyone in San Francisco, you’ve done something wrong. You have to offend at least someone in San Francisco.
Kendall: That’s true.
Elliot: You guys have an extensive background. Where do we start? Katie, let’s start with you. What’s your background?
Katie: I got my undergrad and premed. And then, really started focusing on nutrition. Became registered dietitian. Actually, though, I thought I would spend my career in clinical work at my first job at Starbucks, developing their first health and wellness strategy.
Elliot: I don’t generally think of Starbucks for my health and wellness strategy. But I’ll tell you what. If they take my insurance —
Katie: It used to be a 1,000 calorie coffee cakes and trans fat everywhere, and no healthy options. Now, at least, there’s some egg whites, and salads, and sandwiches.
Elliot: True. When I do feel in a healthy mood, I go in there and there’s always a couple things to choose from.
Katie: Thank you.
Elliot: I mean, the fact that they’re on every corner, sometimes two on one corner, means that you can go pretty much anywhere and get a little healthy snack.
Katie: There you go.
Elliot: So, premed, and then nutrition, and then dietitian. What’s the difference between nutrition and dietitian?
Katie: Basically, anyone can call themselves a nutritionist. Whereas, becoming a dietitian you have to go through a didactic school program, an internship, and then take a test. So, it’s much more like accredited program.
Elliot: Okay. Well, now that I know that, I’m a nutritionist. I love that about me.
Katie: There you go.
Elliot: So, after Starbucks, where’d you head out after that?
Katie: I had my first baby in 2008.
Katie: I know. Thank you. That’s a long way to congratulations. He’s now 13, and taller than me.
Elliot: I love that!
Katie: Basically, just started having this crazy fire in me to change the baby food industry after walking the aisles myself, looking for options for my son, and disappointed in what I found. Left Starbucks in 2010 when he was 18 months old because I just kind of couldn’t put this idea down.
Elliot: Okay. Interesting. Because whatever you fed him, he apparently is growing just fine.
Katie: There’s definitely some questionable choices there when I was, yeah. I have this funny story of when I was looking for protein for my son. I felt like all the pouches were really fruit-heavy, and misleadingly marketed. It was really hard to find protein. I feel like the only way I could get protein in him were these like little Beanie Weenies in a jar, like floating in like hot dog juice. It was a really memorable moment for me. Feeling like, “I guess this is how you give them protein.”
It was disgusting. But I was kind of too afraid to cook the meat. Like, “Would he be able to chew it and swallow it?” So, I felt like I needed the store-bought. Oh, God. I mean, it’s in a jar. It was a like breaking moment for me.
Elliot: Apparently, you just made me hungry. So, strange. What about Kim? What’s your background?
Kendall: I got my undergrad degree in biology. And then, I have a master’s in biophysics and molecular genetics. Which everyone’s like, “What do you do with that?
Elliot: What do you do with that?
Kendall: Yeah. I became a certified genetic counselor and spent most of my career in clinical practice in perinatal services, and did a lot of consulting for a big fertility practice here in San Francisco. And then, had the opportunity to start a private practice. Actually, the first full-service perinatal practice here in San Francisco, with five of the physicians I was working with. So, exciting! Sink or swim moment.
Elliot: Perinatal, really with the swimmers that sometimes sink. Truth.
Kendall: It’s true.
Elliot: Was it a fertility practice or a full like OB-GYN practice?
Kendall: Yeah. Full perinatal practice.
Elliot: Are you counseling with them before they get pregnant? That was my question. Or are you just showing them what’s on the screen?
Kendall: Both. I would see patients with family history of some sort of hereditary disease, and then also just counseling pregnant patients as well based on some sort of clinical prenatal finding, screening test results, amnio CVS result, all that kind of stuff.
Elliot: I mean, that’s sometimes a really difficult job, emotionally.
Kendall: Yeah. You know what? Working with couples and families and patients is a passion of mine in all ways. And so, I feel like, yes, being with those patients in very challenging times is hard, but it’s also incredibly rewarding to kind of help guide them through that. What I love is now kind of transitioning to nutrition.
Katie and I have the opportunity to talk to our customers in so many different ways. It’s interesting. It’s very different information. But it’s really, really rewarding to be able to work with our customers through their own nutrition challenges, or feelings of frustration around picky eating and things like that.
So, incredibly, and sort of oddly enough, there’s some real synergy with what I was doing and so passionate about in clinical care and kind of what we’re doing now with our customers.
Elliot: All right. Let’s talk about your feelings. You each have kids.
Kendall: We do. Apparently, they’re all very tall. Because mine are taller than me as well.
Elliot: Oh, really. But just for clinical study purposes, you did not feed them weenies in a jar?
Kendall: I did not feed them weenies in jar. I was the parent who labored over cooking everything and would cry if they didn’t like the recipe I had made. So, it was It was kind of brutal.
Elliot: Yeah. That’s a lot of pressure on everyone.
Kendall: A whole lot of pressure.
Elliot: I mean, I know you, Katie, you said you had your first baby while you were still working at Starbucks. And was your plan always to have kids, was something that you thought also would integrate well with work life?
Katie: Yeah. I grew up babysitting really from a very young age. Now that I look back at it, now that I have a 10-year-old, I think I was going on family vacations watching infants at a beach when I was 10. Crazy. But I always love, love, love children and caring for them. Actually have been with my husband since I was 19. So, kind of envisioned our family.
Elliot: Wow! How did you meet at 19?
Katie: In college. Actually, ski racing in high school, right before then. But we were best friends in college for a couple of years. Prank phone calling people, I should not tell the story. Going on runs together, skiing, whatever. And then, started dating and kind of knew that was it at 19. We waited until we were 26 to get married. We both went off to graduate school. He was across the country in Atlanta. I went up to Seattle. We spent two years long-distance. And then, I kind of had this ultimatum. Because he always wanted to have kids, but it was hard to feel like we were ready. You have enough money? You have enough time? You’re in the place in your career where you want to be. I said, “Okay. By 30, we’re going to try to get pregnant.” So, we met that goal. I had my first baby at 30.
Elliot: I like how you manifest, “That’s what we’re doing, do it.”
Kendall: They did it!
Katie: I was lucky that it worked out as I had thought as. Many things do not.
Elliot: How was birth for you?
Katie: Well, let’s see. Jackson, my first, was 23 hours of labor. The epidural wore off halfway through. But I didn’t know. I was like, “This feels pretty painful.” They’re like, “It wore off. Would you like us to do it again?” “Yes, I would.” “Okay, stop pushing.” “Neat!”
Elliot: I hope that’s not how it works during appendicitis sutures.
Elliot: Hey, everybody.
Katie: Yes. Both of my kids were sunny side up-back labor, so they just took time. But both were very, very healthy and I would do it again in a heartbeat. I was one of those that, despite the crazy cackles and me not being I don’t know, I didn’t feel like the cutest pregnant gal, which is fine, but I absolutely loved the kind of the magic of being pregnant and watching your body go through and develop life. I just thought it was so special.
Elliot: So, you’re not exactly the same as Kendall. Because, Kendall, you used to think babies were not cool.
Kendall: Yeah. I’m going to admit it. And then, I’m probably going to offend somebody else. I’m sorry. Before I had my own kids — and again, I loved my patients, I loved the scans and seeing those kiddos on ultrasound. But I was not your friend who was going to come over and hold your baby. I didn’t hold babies. I wasn’t particularly excited about the old like sip-and-see, the party where people would pass around their baby, drink tea, and hold the baby. I don’t know. Maybe it was a thing where I felt like I was going to drop the baby. But once I had my first son, totally converted. Love babies, will hold babies, bring them all. Anyone needs some [little] baby, and I’ll do it.
Elliot: What changed?
Kendall: Oh, that’s a good question. I think just having the experience. I’m the youngest in my family and never had a younger sibling to take care of. Unlike Katie, never babysat. So, I just didn’t have a lot of experience around babies or younger kids. I think just having my own, and seeing kind of the development is so incredible in the first, even few months to two years, and it’s magical. I love it.
Elliot: [unin 11:45] because I was always afraid I would sit down on the baby. And then, they would come home. It would be so hard to explain.
Katie: I have to say that, knowing Kendall and anyone that knows her would never guess that she was the gal who didn’t like babies, gosh. And now, we’re giving you the label of the gal that didn’t like babies.
Kendall: I didn’t like the baby.
Katie: But she is the best mom in the world.
Kendall: Thank you.
Katie: Yes. I look up to her and the parent that she is.
Kendall: A natural.
Elliot: Kendall, how were your births?
Kendall: It’s interesting when you work in a hospital around people who are helping people deliver babies all day. I had a lot of support and I had heard so many different stories of how patients wanted labor to go, the birth plans, this and that, and saw it all go differently. So, my goal was healthy kiddos, and how they came, I was putting it out into the universe.
Elliot: So, open?
Kendall: Yeah. I didn’t have a plan. I just was like, “All right. Let’s see how this goes. And when we need to pivot, we’ll pivot.” And actually, I have to say all three were pretty typical. So, nothing too exciting to report.
Elliot: I didn’t even know there was a typical when it came to childbirth.
Kendall: I know. Well, that’s me. See?
Kendall: The lady that doesn’t like the babies, and had — Although, I will say, I was a little bit in jeopardy of having one of my kids on the Bay Bridge. Once I got into labor, I was very efficient. My OB was like, “You need to drive her faster because she could be on the news.” Because we were living across the Bay Bridge anyway. We had to get in the city.
Elliot: Oh, wow.
Kendall: It all worked out.
Elliot: We have an episode of a patient who was trying to make it to the hospital with her second baby, and wasn’t going to make it. They’re just like pull over on a safe street, call 9-1-1. She gets out of the car, and she’s like so uncomfortable in the car. She gets out of the car, like almost spills out of the car into that little patch of grass between the sidewalk and the street, and has her baby right there.
Katie: Oh, my God.
Elliot: I was like, “Ugh, it’s too bad.” Because she had been considering. I said, “It’s too bad the sprinklers didn’t go off, or you could have had that water birth you were thinking about.”
All right. You said “pivot.” We’re going to pivot and learn how you guys came together to put the minds together and form this incredible company. But first, we’re going to take a quick break and we’ll be right back.
Elliot: Welcome back. We are talking to Katie Thompson and Kendall Glenn from “Square Baby.”
Okay. So, you tried your career path, you each had kids, and then somehow, you’ve got together and started this company. How did you meet?
Katie: So, I had just moved to our town in Orinda from Richmond, Virginia. My husband and I moved around a ton for his advertising career, kind of popped around the country. As soon as I moved to Orinda, I knew not a soul. Joined a mom’s group and this mom immediately reached out to me, and said, “Welcome to the community!” I said, “My son’s going to be starting kindergarten at the school.” She says, “Great! Here are the five moms you need to know.” And one of them was Kendall. I have to tell you, those are those moments in your life where someone reaches out who totally didn’t need to and makes a really thoughtful introduction. So, Megan, shout out to you.
We really got to know each other as kind of two busy moms. We didn’t really get together that much for like some other gatherings, but we really got to know each other from volunteering in our community, overhauling the lunch program at our elementary school. Just starting a nutrition program, and also fundraising for the local schools and children’s hospitals. In that capacity, I got to see how Kendall and I really work together and knowing what I really needed in a co-founder, where we really get along and have enough in common, but are different enough that we push each other.
Kendall showed up to this field day that we were running, and she had like 17 spreadsheets of how the people were organized and the run of show, and she had a bullhorn and a whistle, and everything was organized. I was like, “That’s my girl!” And so, I basically proposed to Kendall over text message and said, “If you have any interest in joining this crazy little idea, this kind of business plan I’ve been working on, let’s talk.” Thank God, she said yes.
Elliot: Wow! Over text?
Kendall: I have to say, I have to interject. We went on like a 12-mile-run and discussed. Right, Kate? It was like we hammered it all out. Funny enough, I have a strong family history in the food industry. And so, there was a little part in the back of my mind thinking, “All right. This gal found out where some of my family works.” And the reason she’s asking is because I’ve got this other part of my family that is the food industry gurus. But she didn’t know! She actually wanted me for me, and I was just so excited that I couldn’t say no.
Elliot: Wow! When you went on your 12-mile-run, that’s when you worked out the details?
Kendall: We did. It was actually really good. I think one thing that makes this partnership so strong is that we’re both very honest with each other, and we understand our own strengths and our own opportunities for development, and we complement each other well. I do remember on that run, we talked a lot about operations versus marketing versus, how we work, how I work, how she works. So, it was a very, very efficient and effective run, I’ll say.
Elliot: Wow. Usually, five minutes into my run, you can’t hear anything over my heavy breathing. And talking is way out of the question. So, you guys are powerful. Okay. Why “square?” Where’s the concept of “square”?
Katie: Yeah. So, my kind of original experience walking down the baby food aisle was seeing that so many of the products were misleadingly marketed. They kind of made you feel like there was this balanced meal, and had quinoa in it, and kale. But every time I would flip over the pouch, I would notice that they were very, very fruit-heavy and high in sugar. I felt like it was really just a bunch of applesauce with a sprinkling of superfoods.
And so, everything that I believe in from a nutrition perspective is all about balance and moderation. I thought you know what we really need is three bounce meals a day, right? And so, “square” foods is all about square meals and balance nutrition. So, each of our meals have been designed to ladder up to 100% daily nutrition.
For example, any two of our meals for a six to eight-month-old, or any three for an age to 12-month-old, offers 100% of their daily veggies, fruits, grains, and protein, and you’ll never find a fruit-heavy meal. They’re actually all very veggie-forward, but cover 100% of their daily nutrition.
Elliot: Oh, that sounds like a lot of math.
Kendall: So, many scrunches.
Katie: Oh, you have no idea.
Elliot: How long did it take from the 12-mile-run until you actually had a launchable company?
Katie: That was about a year, honestly. I left Starbucks in 2010 with the idea. It took a couple of years really to kind of figure out how to solve this “was it.” Was it a product? Was it a cookbook? Was it a website? Was it an app? Then, was it fresh? Was it in a pouch? Was it in a jar? Anyway, I spent a lot of time kind of doing the research and starting to build a business plan. But when Kendall and I got together, that’s when we really kind of opened up all the books again and said, “Here’s the research that we’ve done to date.” We spent 12 months really re-looking at everything and kind of rebranding and tweaking the business plan. We raised the [funds and finally 19:40] around, and then launched within 12 months.
Elliot: Because you also have a little bit of a business background, right Katie? Is that helpful in terms of structuring a company and raising funds?
Katie: Yeah. I would say I minored in business in college. But I feel that so much of startup world in general, or maybe just anyone’s first jobs, is about being inquisitive, and eager to learn, and not being afraid to pick up the phone and make 100 phone calls and see where those 100 phone calls lead to. So, a lot of it is reaching out and seeking to learn on your own.
Elliot: There’s also another competitive skier on your team.
Katie: [unin 20:18]
Elliot: No. Kevin. I’ll introduce you. Yeah.
Katie: I heard he’s great. So, your husband, Kevin, is the chief creative officer.
Katie: That’s right. It’s an interesting dynamic. It’s been amazing, I will say. His background is in advertising. He’s worked for what feels like a thousand advertising agencies, which has moved us around the country but giving him a ton of experience. He’s also one of those self-starters who’s taught himself how to do photo shoots, and build videos. And even though he’s a writer, he’s really kind of learned a bunch from a design perspective. We really rely on him to push us outside of our comfort zone from a marketing perspective, and we’ve really enjoyed this time together. What’s fun is that, even though when I kind of dreamed up this idea 12 years ago or whatever, now having a 10 and 13-year-old get to watch their parents — and Kendall, work together, is a really beautiful thing. They get to do it alongside us. So, that’s been pretty awesome.
Elliot: Well. for you, Katie. But then also, for Kendall, a lot of people can’t work with their spouse. And then, you, Kendall, have to work with two spouses.
Kendall: Can I work with someone else’s spouse? [unin 21:37]
Elliot: Yes, exactly. Look, my wife and I work together. She’s a psychologist. So, we spend so much time together, it could create areas of stress. But in our case, it doesn’t matter. Because if we get into a little fight, she just takes an assistant to her office and does therapy with her. But in general, people have a hard time working with partners. Is that challenging?
Kendall: Yeah. Well, I’ll tell you from my perspective. I mean, I feel like Katie and Kevin have been, in their previous life, they were the old couple that have been married for like 70 years and still went to the mailbox together. I mean, they are hilarious. They’ll work a whole day, and then I’ll just call her for something. And they’re on their way to the grocery store together. I think to myself, “You two are incredible.” They’re awesome.
I will say, I give Kevin a whole lot of credit, because he is just phenomenal at his job and he also allows Katie and I to really collaborate and drive the ship. And so, it’s a really ideal dynamic. That could be extremely challenging with probably any other two people.
Elliot: Yeah. Again, my head goes into funny places. Dynamic working with your own husband on projects could be stressful, but then also being the sort of connector between the other two.
Katie: Yeah. I mean, there’s definitely moments where I’m like, “Can you talk to me in our like husband and wife voice, and not like in your work voice?” Because I’m a very sensitive soul, for better or for worse. It’s like my greatest strength and the thing that I work on all the time. It’s interesting because Kevin is very firm in his recommendations, and he’s headstrong, and he’s very proven in what he’s done, right? Sometimes, I’m like, “Well, this is what I’m thinking,” or “I prefer this way,” or “Can you back up and not make the whole commercial before we’ve talked about it first?” He will like, “Just let me do my thing.” I’m like, “Let’s talk about it.” Anyway, but really at the end of the day, if we walk away and have nothing except for — I hate the word “journey,” but the experience that we’ve had together, it will have been a win.
Elliot: Cool. I know that your foods are squarely balanced. Now, I understand that. I know that you guys are very health-oriented. But outside of that, what kind of attitudes and approaches do you think are healthy to have with kids and food? You know, from the beginning.
Katie: Yeah. I think especially having raised two kids that are older now and kind of seeing them through the cycles of eating, and relationship with food, and trying to kind of build a healthy — an adventurous eater who’s open to things beyond plain pasta and chicken nuggets. We really stress, obviously, balanced nutrition. Like a broken record, my poor kids. But we talk about, instead of — I grew up, many of us in the ’80s, ’90s, with fad diets and dieting parents, and a focus on no carbs or where there was shame associated with eating certain foods, it was very important to me. Even though I have two boys, and don’t have any girls, that they understand that food should be fun and should be enjoyed. But also fuels your body, so let’s think about balancing your plate and having sustained energy with protein, and fiber, and healthy fats. So, I try to kind of educate them. Especially with my 13-year-old, I’m like, “Oh, my God! You’re going to be on your own in college in like not very long. Are you ready to like go down the grocery aisle and know what to put in the basket?”
So, it’s more about balance and moderation always, but really trying to encourage them to enjoy food, to be adventurous, and to kind of think about fueling their bodies.
Elliot: What would you think, like at a younger age, is something adventurous?
Katie: Gosh. I always think about beets. This is kind of funny because I grew up actually very picky. I had a list of the foods that I told my parents that I would eat. Not the list wouldn’t. It was like canned corn, canned green beans. I think those are my vegetables, period. Plain pasta, didn’t like spaghetti sauce. Chicken nuggets, fish sticks. And so, I actually trained myself to like vegetables — this is embarrassing, by going to Subway in college and just starting, “Well, maybe this time, I’ll put a tomato on there, and “Oh, a bell pepper.” And kind of hiding it amongst the oil and vinegar.
Anyway, this really taught me that you can evolve the foods that you like, and really begin to like them even after being a toddler. But “Square Baby” really celebrates having a diverse offering of foods and textures and flavors, and not being afraid to offer bitter veggies and savory earthy flavors, like beets, and broccoli, and spinach, and never hiding them and drowning them out in fruit.
Elliot: It’s interesting. Definitely, my palette has learned to grow over time, but I started way behind you. Because you had canned corn and canned green beans, and I was on candy corn and green lollipops.
Katie: Mm, those are good too.
Elliot: They’re delish, but those were my veggies, period.
Kendall, what’s your approach? Your like health nutrition lifestyle pitch.
Kendall: Yeah. Well, I grew up with a mom who was fiercely protective of family dinner. My dad worked and traveled a lot. But no matter what happened, we all sat at the table together. She cooked one meal. And I have to say, she was ahead of her time. I mean, it was very balanced. Always protein, grain, and vegetables ever in it, and a side salad. It’s hilarious. Love her for this because I’ve sort of brought that to my family now as well.
Kind of to echo what Katie’s saying, as our kids have gotten older, building the foundation of adventurous eater, trying new things, variety of flavors and textures, now what I see with my kids and our family, we’re very active family. My kids live very active lifestyles. And so, it’s really important for me to help educate them on the “food is fuel” messaging. And really help them understand when they eat, how do they feel? When they eat, what they eat or how do they perform? And really understanding about how to fuel their bodies for the things they want to do, right? Whether that’s a sport, or concentrating through a long day of school. So, that’s really what I’m trying to instill in them now.
Elliot: It’s really cool to do that from a young age. Like, it took me a long time to sort of see if I do this, this is how my body feels or my mind feels.
Elliot: Or if I eat better, I get this amount of sleep or anything like that. This kind of exercise. But I never really thought about integrating that with little kids. Sadly, my youngest is already 12. But I’m going to try. Now, that I know.
Kendall: No, go for it. They love it! It’s like a little experiment every day. They eat a donut, and then they don’t feel so great.
Elliot: Yeah, okay. Let’s take a little break. When we come back over to find out how you took all of this passion. And not just formulated an entity, but really formulated the product line as well. We’ll take a break and we’ll be right back.
Elliot: Welcome back. We are talking to Katie and Kendall from “Square Baby.”
Your backgrounds are really interesting and how you both got into the health fields and your passion for health, and just a healthy lifestyle, and then wanting to give that to kids. It’s cool to have all that passion and some knowledge. But coming out with a product line, especially food and especially for young ones, there’s a lot of work that goes into that. How did you go about creating healthy nutritious food for a kid?
Kendall: Yeah. So, it really started with just a ton of research. Nutrition research, diving into the USDA and AAP recommendations, understanding the key milestones for growth and development. Of course, did a competitive analysis to really understand the landscape of what other companies are offering and what they weren’t. But really, as parents, we already really kind of knew that landscape. But was really important, especially going from having our own babies over a decade ago to what is more relevant now, it was so important for us to really understand what our parents talking about now, what are their concerns, their needs.
For example, baby led weaning. There’s a huge topic that’s going on now and a conversation that wasn’t happening before. So, really understanding our customer so that we could deliver on what they’re looking for. So, that ended up coming to form with the square meal system that offered the 100% daily nutrition. We are the only company doing early allergen introduction, which is a huge gap in the market and based on more recent research. And offered different proteins, like chicken bone broth, and salmon, and eggs that you can’t find on the market and parents are desperately looking for.
Elliot: Early allergic introduction, meaning? It sounds like the opposite of what people would think, right?
Kendall: Yeah. So, when we were having our first babies, the AAP recommendations were you know, “Do not give your kid a peanut until 3.” And, “and eggs and milk until 1 or 2.” It was a huge fear. You felt like deathly afraid of giving your baby a peanut too early. And then, extensive research went into the LEAP study and several other landmark studies that really proved that you can actually reduce the prevalence of food allergies by up to 80% by offering allergens early and often. So, the LEAP study focused on peanut protein as early as four to six months, and 2 grams serving three times a week. So, there’s very quantifiable research that now shows — and has led to new recommendations supported by AAP and the USDA.
Most baby food companies have not caught up to that and are touting allergen-free. Whereas, we’re putting milk, and egg, and fish, and peanuts, and tree nuts into our baby foods as an option.
Elliot: I mean, I remember still, if one of my kids drops chocolate chip, I freak out about the dog. If that dog eats that chocolate chip, terrible things will happen.
Kendall: Oh, yeah.
Elliot: And that’s how people were when we were feeding our little kids. That’s what people are about everything we just mentioned, and nuts especially. So, even though the recommendations have changed, have they taken off if people become less fearful, more excited to try to introduce allergens early on and prevent actual allergies?
Kendall: Yeah. It’s been interesting when we launched our peanut pumpkin pie meal, we launched it in conjunction with a big parent sampling event here in San Francisco. We were kind of curious to get some of that feedback. We were pleasantly surprised that we felt like, instead of parents saying to us, “What? You’re offering this peanut product?” They were thanking us. Like, it’s so hard to find a product that incorporates some of these allergens into a meal offering. And so, I think that it’s been really interesting. I think the parents are looking for these options to the point I think there’s some kind of lag in the industry.
Elliot: You guys have started the [curve 32:41]. So, sometimes, it’s looking for people to see around the bend.
Elliot: Okay. So, you did the homework. You did a lot of research. And then, there’s so many things to think about. What the food is going to be, what the flavors are going to be like, what the nutritional content is going to be like, how are you going to package, how are you going to distribute it, how are you going to market it? It’s just building something from nothing takes so much effort. How did you guys get all that done after one 12-mile-run?
Katie: Yeah. It was all done after 12 miles. I’m going to clarify that right now.
I have to say, Katie had done a tremendous amount of work before we joined forces. I felt like in that year of preparation, prior to our launch, it was really about refining the math, the research. We did some updated research and focus groups that year, but so much was done. Any entrepreneur knows this and I’ve learned this absolutely, you just have to be scrappy. You pick up the phone every day, and you take every call. Someone wants to introduce you to this person, who wants to introduce you that person. And you always say yes to those calls because you learn so much from every discussion, every context. It’s unbelievable to me how many people in really high leadership positions, positions of great expertise, are willing to get on the phone with you for 30 minutes and sort of, to your point, outline your packaging plan, or options. You just have to be willing to kind of step out of your comfort zone and pick up the phone, reach out, learn. As Katie said earlier, learn, learn, learn every day.
Elliot: Did you start with a single product?
Katie: As anyone who knows us, knows we don’t do anything that’s easy. Starting with one single product would have been fantastic. We launched with 21.
Kendall: Yeah. That’s what we wanted to do. We’re a direct consumer company, right? So, if you are in a grocery store setting, maybe you have one, two, three skews that capture the eye of the mom/parent/caregiver walking by. But as a direct-to-consumer company, and really with our goal of solving meal time and taking baby from the first bite set four to six months, to kind of graduating them off into finger foods and things, we knew we needed to have the options. And that meant 20 different meals.
Elliot: Wow! It’s so intense. But I mean, who tested all the flavor?
Katie: My first baby, the beanie weenie baby. He’s going to love that. He’s going to love it now. The “beanie weeny baby.”
Kendall: It’s going to follow him to college.
Katie: Yes. I was working full-time with him and left Starbucks to kind of develop this idea. I mean, I made some food for him. But for the most part, I needed the convenience of store-bought for him. With Nolan, my second baby, I was focused solely on “Square Baby” and developing recipes. And so, he tried every single one of them, and some of them were mirrored off of the smoothies that I was making for myself. So, “Greeny Baby” was this green smoothie that. Because Nolan was a baby that just didn’t want to be put down, I felt like I was always holding like a blender and a baby. And so, my nutrition for the day ended up being like I would make a 40-ounce smoothie or something that I could just take down during the day.
Anyway, so “Greeny Baby” is after that green smoothie. And then, “Beet Berries” is still his current favorite. Kendall and I actually started out in a commercial kitchen for the first three years after we launched. And so, we would come home from a commercial kitchen. He’d be like, “Did you make Beet Berry today?” I’m like, “Got to sell those, buddy.” But he still chugs that one, and that I really love. Because I hated beets until I was 30. And I got him to have a love for beets as a 5-year-old.
Elliot: That’s cool. Yeah, my kids like golden beets.
Katie: Oh, yeah!
Kendall: We love golden beets. It’s delicious.
Elliot: Okay. So, you’re kind of testing them with the people around you. Especially, the little ones.
Katie: That’s right. I mean, by the time we launched the company, most of our friends and most people we knew did not have babies. So, we definitely had a few test customers that we were shipping to that really helped to kind of understand the shipping piece of it and what people, they’re ordering kind of habits and what they were reordering, and liking, and things like that. But for the most part, we’re our the taste testers and our family. And we didn’t do any large consumer testing groups, because that would have been like 30 grand. We’re like, “No way! These are delicious.”
Kendall: We don’t need 30 grand of focus group, we’re [unin 37:11] free slice of pizza.
Elliot: Okay. I have two questions for you to kind of round out this Volume 1, this first in a 3-part series. And these are both practical questions. One is when you’re trying to get your kids to try new things, and it could be super frustrating. Do you have any tips for like how to get over that frustrating hump without [irritating both ceilings 37:34]?
Kendall: Yeah. I think, personally, parents need to remember that it’s really important to try a food or a meal many times, and you might want to try it in a variety of ways, right? Just like adults. I mean, some people like a warm meal, some people like something cooler. So, thinking through temperatures, and different textures. Also realizing that, at different times a day, a baby might be more excited or feel more hungry, and that might be a better time. Versus right before nap when they’re tired and really ready to go down, or they’ve just been breastfed or given a bottle. That might not be the best time. But, just parent to parent. I think remembering to just stay calm, and that so often, a first try doesn’t mean that they’re not going to like it forever. But trying again, casually offering a lot of different things at many times, I think is the best way to go, for sure.
Elliot: I mean, I even had to do that with myself. Because at some point, I started incorporating juices into my routine. And I always gravitate towards the ones with a lot of apple and stuff inside them. But, actually, there was a really great one with the red beets and purple cabbage, and it was like fruit punch and tastes, literally, like fruit punch. But I was like so envious of the people who would just walk up and be like, “I’ll take that green with no apple, and tons of ginger in it.” I’m like, “Oh, my God. How are you going to get that down?” I would try. I would gag and choke, and I feel like I was drinking grass. But something that you said that [strike me with this 39:07] for me. If I put it in the freezer till it almost became like Slurpee texture, then I can get it down slowly.
Kendall: Yeah. I’m the same way. I’ve tried. I know Katie can chug like a good green juice, and I’m always envious. I have to have it super cold. Like, just like that. Almost ice cold and I get a half a glass. I can’t get the whole thing down. Half a glass, that’s what I can do. But it’s better than nothing.
Elliot: But still, slow. Great. I feel like I’m working it out there. I could develop the palette for it. Even though I’m like 500 years old now. My last question was for both of you. You’re both very energetic, smart, successful. What do you feel — because you know so much now about nutrition, especially for kids. What do you feel like you wish you had known at the beginning of your parenting career that you know now?
Katie: I look back on not just nutrition but so many of the things that were so stressful. And so, often, it was comparing yourself to other kids, or other families, or other milestones. And how quickly are they crawling or walking. And, “Oh, my gosh. Your baby likes avocados. Mine doesn’t. What am I doing wrong?” It’s so easy to create this really stressful time for yourself. But I think just, in general, know that if you kind of stay consistent, and give yourself some grace, and kind of chill out about everything, the stress can really deter them from I think reaching those milestones sometimes. Like, you can really ruin meal time and someone’s excitement for trying new things, if it’s like an arm wrestle every time. Of course, we’re all about being science-based and balanced nutrition. But, of course, room for indulgences, room to feel like you had a day where you messed it all up. Like, it’s all good. It’s all going to work out. This is a marathon, right? Not a moment.
Elliot: Yeah. Or 12 miles is like almost half a marathon.
Katie: I’ve not run 12 miles since, just for the record.
Elliot: Really? That was the last time?
Katie: My knees are shot and my back hurts from making baby food.
Elliot: I do know a chiropractor.
Kendall, what about you? What do you know that you wish you had known earlier?
Kendall: Yeah. I mean, I would just echo what Katie said. When people tell you and I think when you’re in it, it’s hard to listen. But just remember that there’s a lot of time. I think, in terms of introducing food and thinking about nutrition for your babies, it’s just like us. Some days, you’re not as hungry. Some days, you don’t feel like soba noodles, or I don’t know, whatever, and that’s okay. That it doesn’t need to be stressful. And I think just like slowing it down, taking it easy, and knowing that with consistency and time, it’s all good. It’s going to change, and it definitely is a marathon, not a sprint.
Elliot: That’s really nice. It’s interesting. I went to her Facebook page, and she had a post like, “If you could talk to your younger self and tell your younger self two words, what would you say?” And pretty much, the gist of almost every post was “slow down, calm down, relax, chill out, it’s okay.” I put “nice hair.”
Katie: Brilliant! That’s the best one I heard.
Elliot: There it is. I’m learning so much for me, and there’s a ton more I really want to get into your whole company in private equine. We’re going to do that. We’re going to keep talking in another part. And then, another part after that. So, there’s a lot to chew on here. No pun intended, slightly. Slightly.
Katie: Just a little.
Elliot: Right now, who has access to “Square Baby”?
Katie: Oh, gosh. We have been a regional brand since we launched in 2018. Right now, we’re in the midst of scaling nationally. So, going from this commercial kitchen, up to a larger manufacturing kitchen facility. We have been a wait list for what feels like an eternity because it’s really hard for Kendall and I not to be in control of everything and to have to wait. But very soon, we are launching nationally, relaunching. We’ll be able to get to every doorstep in the lower 48 states.
Elliot: So, I got to move out of Alaska or Hawaii.
Elliot: But they have pretty good stuff in Alaska and Hawaii.
Katie: That’s right. We might make an exception for you anyway.
Elliot: Thank you. Something to go with my salmon up there.
Kendall: That’s right.
Elliot: Okay. Amazing. We can’t wait to continue the conversation. Before we go please, tell us where we’re going to find you online.
Katie: So, squarebaby.com, and on Instagram, @squarebabyfood.
Elliot: Okay. I’m going to go check out @squarebabyfood on Instagram right now. It’s great to meet you, and talk to you, and learn from you. We’re going to come back with another episode and learn some more. But until then, we will see you online. You can find us online at informedpregnancy.com.